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Posted on Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Breaking down the Michigan football backfield with help from the offensive line

By Michael Rothstein


Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson poses with, from left, Phil Monolo, Stephen Hopkins, Michael Shaw, Fitzgerald Toussaint, John McColgan and Vincent Smith earlier this month.

Melanie Maxwell |

There isn’t a superstar in the bunch, not a John Clay or Tim Biakabutuka to take care the majority of carries for the Michigan football team.

What Michigan lacks in a featured back, it makes up for in depth. With the way the Wolverines run their zone read option offense, it makes sense, too.

Having running backs who are interchangeable and bring different styles to the field is a phenomenon running throughout the NFL, and it holds true at Michigan.

“It’s going to be a committee,” third-year Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there’s going to be one who separates, even though we have another week or so before we have to determine that.

“I see a situation where we have two, three, maybe even four guys that emerge. That’s not a bad situation to be in, but it’s just hard to get them all reps.”

Working the combination of Vincent Smith, Michael Cox, Mike Shaw, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stephen Hopkins into the rotation has been perhaps one of the more pleasant challenges for Michigan in a camp full of question marks.

But how do these guys run? To find out, ask the guys who might understand best -those blocking for them on the offensive line. We did, and here is what they say:

Vincent Smith Year: Sophomore Height: 5-foot-6 Weight: 180 pounds Hometown/hgh school: Pahokee, Fla. (Pahokee) 2009 statistics: 48 carries, 276 yards, 1 touchdown. Ten receptions, 82 yards, 2 TDs. Offensive lineman John Ferrara on Smith: “He’s a small, little shifty guy. It’s fun watching him play sometimes. He can make a guy miss, and it is exciting.”

Michael Shaw Year: Junior Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 187 pounds Hometown/high school: Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison) 2009 stats: 42 carries, 185 yards, 2 TDs. Two receptions, 5 yards. Offensive lineman Mark Huyge on Shaw: “Very quick guy. He’ll run hard. I don’t know how much he weighs, but it doesn’t matter. He’ll still put his head down and try to run through people, too. He’s real shifty. But that’s how our running backs are. He’s shifty and at the same time, he can turn it up and try to run someone over.”

Michael Cox Year: Redshirt sophomore Height: 6-foot Weight: 211 pounds 2009 stats: 13 carries, 113 yards, 2 TDs Hometown/high school: Oak Park (Detroit Country Day) Offensive lineman Stephen Schilling on Cox: “He’s fun to watch. He’s a big guy, so he’s powerful, but he’s also one of the quickest we have. So some of these jump cuts he’s able to make and the balance he has is pretty crazy. It’s pretty exciting to see him run. One play that could get stuck in the backfield turns into a 40-yard run for him.”

Fitzgerald Toussaint Year: Redshirt freshman Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 200 pounds Hometown/high school: Youngstown, Ohio (Liberty) High school career stats: 455 carries, 4,690 yards, 65 TDs Offensive lineman Stephen Schilling on Toussaint: “He’s a tough runner. He’s a guy that hits it up in there. He’s not afraid to go up the middle and get the extra yards, make a 4-yard run into a 6- or-7-yard run and makes some easier down-and-distance for us. It’s exciting to have him back there and healthy this year.”

Stephen Hopkins Year: Freshman Height: 6-foot Weight: 227 pounds Hometown/high school: Double Oak, Texas (Marcus) 2009 high school stats: 1,350 yards Offensive lineman John Ferrara on Hopkins: “He’s a big basher. He can run people over. He had a really good day in the scrimmage. He’s a young guy, he’s got to mature a little bit mentally, but once he gets it, he’s going to be real good.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 3:18 p.m.

Sure are some boys and girls on this site that know a lot about our team before the first game. I don't and therefore I think I'll wait until the 3rd game before I start fascinating all of you with my fountain of knowledge but by all means, those of you that are gifted with such sensational insight into our Wolverines please continue, at all cost.


Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 7:48 p.m.

Despite what may be said in this article, only about 2 or 3 of these guys will get meaningful carries. Assuming Shaw is eligible, I think you'll see Shaw and Smith get plenty of opportunity to win the job. After them, maybe Cox or Hopkins will get some work, but probably only one or the other. While I think RB is a position of concern, it's not the disaster that the defense will be. I just don't think we'll get much out of it, based upon what was visible in the spring game. I certainly hope I'm wrong because we really need the RB's to take some pressure off the QB's.


Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Of course it will work ye of little faith. Didn't we have a lead back last yr that was tortured with injuries? As far as a rhythm goes that happens when the back is handed the ball it's called, take hand off and move your butt, that's the definition of rhythm. That phrase, "get into a rhythm" is way over rated if your injured. Look boys and girls the big game is Sat. and I can smell the whole thing in my mind. Man oh Man it's great to be a Wolves fan and that stadium is like something out of Sci-fi. My second team is USC cause I live close and once in a great while I go and they have their problems to but for the most part the fans are solid behind them and that new controversial coach Lane that left Tennessee in the same manner RR left WV. USC fans are real loyal and honest fans but Mich. is my college team.

Sean T.

Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 3:11 p.m.

I would'nt put too much stock in this article or the analysis of the O-linemen. How honest do you think they are gonna be? Would you think that Schilling would say " he's really not that good" but "maybe he gets some reps".

M Go Blue in RI

Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 1:45 p.m.

"Committes don't work as no one gets into rhythum. A smart coach picks a guy or two and goes with them." Hmmmm. Seems like almost every team in the NFL now uses the committee approach. I guess those NFL coaches aren't very smart then, are they?


Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

rotating your backs keeps them fresh and each has a different style of running. the defense has to make a lot of adjustments because of this... wanna be coach's, priceless... stay tuned for as the (bowl) turns...


Sun, Aug 29, 2010 : 7:42 a.m.

Committes don't work as no one gets into rhythum. A smart coach picks a guy or two and goes with them....oh I forgot it's Rich Rod.